Pioneering virtual reality studio and distributor Wevr returns to the Tribeca Film Festival--this time presenting Apex, a VR experience created by 3D artist and musician Arjan van Meerten. Anthony Batt, co-founder/executive VP of Wevr and an exec producer on Apex, described van Meerten’s piece as making viewers/participants feel like they’re “awake in someone else’s dream.” Batt said that van Meerten fits the bill of what Wevr is constantly seeking--”artists who are going to make you think, who place you in something artistic.” Of Apex, Batt said simply, “Arjan submerges you in this dream state.”
Apex is one of 23 projects from six countries selected for Tribeca’s Virtual Arcade. (Wevr is headquartered in Venice, Calif., while van Meerten maintains the Dutch studio House of Secrets.)
This marks year two of the Virtual Arcade at Tribeca. In the first year, Wevr rolled out 3D animator/filmmaker Tyler Hurd’s VR experience Old Friend, a mix of elegant dance and joyful absurdity. Just as Old Friend whetted audience appetites for what Wevr would next bring to Tribeca, so too was there considerable anticipation for van Meerten’s follow-up to his acclaimed VR debut Surge, which came out in 2015.
Batt was among those enthralled with Surge, a breakthrough real-time VR music video. “It jumped out at me,” related Batt. “It surprised a lot of people. I saw it and said ‘oh my God, this is what the medium is going to be like.’ I think this next piece [Apex] takes what he developed with Surge and pushes it to the next level. Now you can walk around in his dream.”
Artist van Meerten--whose House of Secrets teamed with Wevr to produce Apex (along with Kaleidoscope, described by Batt as a like-minded company that on occasion collaborates with Wevr)--stated, “VR is a really intense and immersive way to experience music. The best way I can describe Apex is like when I was 15 and went to a death metal concert, and what I felt being in the crowd as the band played, the aggression and the energy--it’s overwhelming and kind of scary, but it makes you feel something. And that’s what I wanted to do with Apex. There is destruction but there is also beauty in what you are seeing. It’s really more of an atmosphere than a traditional story. And that’s what I’m interested in doing now, putting people in worlds more than telling a traditional story in those worlds. I like it when people take off the headset and have to adjust to the earth again.”
Apex marked Wevr’s first collaboration with van Meerten. “We identified him as an artist whom we wanted to work with,” said Batt. “He is an extraordinary creative force and our job was to stay out of his way. Our approach to working with him was just to get him what he needed to get his project produced, helping him get people to see it, and for us to market and support it.”
Batt noted that Wevr’s extensive involvement in VR in recent years can be divided in the big picture to a couple of primary approaches--supporting and producing for artisans such as van Meerten, and co-creating as well as physically making experiences in tandem with others. On the latter score, for example, Wevr teamed with filmmaker Jon Favreau to create (and co-produce with Reality One) Gnomes & Goblins, bringing people into an interactive fantasy world featuring many realms and denizens.
Wevr has delved into VR with the likes of such notables as Favreau, comedian/musician Reggie Watts, wellness expert Deepak Chopra and animation guru Phil Tippett. Yet while it’s gratifying to work with talent who are well versed in television and feature films, Batt observed that there’s much headway to be made by collaborating with artists who aren’t as well known and have fewer preconceived notions of VR that are unduly influenced by TV or theatrical motion picture experience. Without the baggage of another already established medium or discipline, new artisans can fully immerse themselves in VR, perhaps more fully tapping into and realizing the potential of experiential 360.
In that vein, Batt believes Tribeca represents an important marketplace for discovery, particularly when it comes to talent. “Folks attending Tribeca are looking for a creative edge. They are looking to the future. They are seekers, early adopters, fans of art. VR is really that, artistic expression in the fullest sense, being able to surround someone with your ideas. That said, we haven’t found our masters yet. Arjan is an emerging talent. And Tribeca is on a path to help discover emerging talent, those who will become the masters--and to present them to the world. To have film festivals think past film and go where art and storytelling takes them is great for VR. It’s cool to see Tribeca go there.”
Wevr itself also provides a platform for discovery, helping worthwhile VR content to connect with an audience. The company launched Transport, a platform (tansportvr.com) where much free content can live and gain exposure. Additionally Wevr has released a premium subscription tier within Transport, spearheaded by the release of such experiences as Chopra’s Finding Your True Self, and Hurd’s Old Friend.
There are two tiers of pricing. For $20 a year, users can have access to room scale and mobile experiences. Or for an $8 annual fee, users can have access to just mobile experiences.
Transport’s premium subscription is available for the Vive and GearVR, with plans for it to work in the future on Google Daydream, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR.
“So we’re not only embracing artists creatively on the production side,” said Batt, “but we’re providing a place, Transport, where they can distribute their work.”
The Tribeca Film Festival gets underway today and runs through April 30.